Closed What We Do In The Dark

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Today was an auspicious day.

Doctor Sidney Bedell, formerly an analyst at MIRA London, now chief researcher and head of the PMPD Analysis Team at the North-Atlantic branch in New York, had spent the last several years, as defined by his title, researching the limits and capabilities of the PMPD manifestations found in the many MIRA agents that, for one reason or another, were not fully aware of their potential. This research took time, and test subjects, and a certain understanding of morality that let one bend the rules, without breaking them. In doing this, the goals of his tests were, on occasion, objectionable to the general public.

Thankfully, they would never see the public eye.

Today was perhaps not the pinnacle of what he hoped to achieve, but it was certainly an opportunity he could not pass up. One Doctor Garth Oleander had been added to the North-Atlantic branch just recently, and due to the nature of his manifestation, had very quickly caught Dr. Bedell's eye. Of course, he was aware of his past. Bedell knew Dr. Oleander would be... perhaps willing wasn't the correct word, but he would certainly be encouraged to use his specific set of skills today. He'd spent the last few months filling out the required paperwork, filling out forms, putting in requests to the proper departments...

And waiting on someone to make a mistake.

Dr. Bedell was already set up in the primary testing chamber, where he and Agent D-0619-F had met dozens of times already, sorting his notes and preparing. In the ancillary chamber, just beyond the faux wall, was his newest subject. Perhaps new wasn't the proper word. Maybe original fit better, but people changed, over time, and he was not who MIRA had thought he was. It was Dr. Bedell's job, with the assistance of Dr. Oleander and D-0619-F, to find out.

She'd been told today would be like any other. Of course, that meant very little, being a Flex Agent for the Metahuman Incident Response Agency, but it meant her general schedule would stay the same.

All that morning, Rowan had stuck to her schedule. Wake up at 6, basic hygiene, go down to the athletics complex on campus, morning workout, back to her dorm. Actual full shower, breakfast, tend to her hair, down the list. All things that made her seem painfully normal, from an outside perspective. She'd chatted with Hannah briefly, and Pitch. She was starting to like Pitch, more than she expected to at first. She promised to meet them for lunch, later that day, after lab time.

It was a reductionist way to refer to the time she and Dr. Bedell had spent over the years to establish how her manifestation worked, and they'd done a lot of work together. They both only called it that because it sounded more pleasant than experimentation or testing, despite that being exactly what it was. It was also high clearance information, information she technically wasn't allowed to be privy to, if not for the fact that she was a key participant. It was also something she took quite seriously, as one of her duties as a MIRA agent, a set of responsibilities she strove to live up to and fulfil every day. They were doing valuable work, here. Saving lives, preventing another July Holocaust.

It was odd, then, that she was running late today. Despite today being like so many others, Dr. Bedell had told her that another agent would be joining in their tests today. The news came late, so she had to go out of her way to make herself extra presentable, for first impressions. It was only now, roughly five minutes after she'd usually arrive, that she was finally leaving her dorm, in a full rush.

Part of an ongoing PMPD capability test for D-0619-F Rowan, checking for interactions and possible conflict with psychoactive substances- ones you're already able to synthesise, so no homework. Venom Suit required, already purged from previous trial and delivered to laboratory by facility staff.

He had been told today would be unusual, but the message was written so long ago that it no longer applied- not really. Perhaps, at the time he was supposed to recieve the call, it would have been out of the ordinary. His work in London was almost exclusively medical, so a request for substances like this would've definitely seemed odd at the start; but, in the short time he, had been with MIRA North Atlantic, they had already put him to work doing what he did best. They had even made him a goddamn costume for it, as if that horrifying thing would ever reach the public eye. It was a bad look for them, even if people couldn't tell who stood behind the mask.

It worked, though. It worked well- and so did he. Medicines that were hard to come by, expensive to make, difficult to store; Gaz could chew a couple of wood pellets and spit it into a cup on command. Psychoactives that were difficult to track, illegal to own, dangerous to produce; the only thing Gaz was at risk of blowing up was his own damn intestines. Chemical weapons that were lethal to work with, required intensely-controlled conditions, able to be produced only in tiny, tiny quantities; though only those tiny quantities were needed, Gaz could produce litres. All were just as efficient. The fact that he was willing to work with the latter two had morphed from a worrying footnote in his psych eval to a censored subtitle in his job description, and he had settled into the role quite easily.

But Rowan... didn't seem the type.

His interactions with her had been brief and largely job-related; distant but friendly, as they both liked to ensure. She was an optimist, he had gathered. Not quite wide-eyed innocence, but the closest one could get without becoming completely naive. In a way, it made things easier between them. Given everything else about their respective circumstances, it was probably the only thing that did.

After all, she grew up in the UK- she would've been fourteen around the time he was Contaminant. Though most American colleagues had only briefly seen the shots of Farlow following the incident on BA-2690, his face had been floating around the British media for quite a while before, and his initial stint in the London branch had been challenging as a result. It was only towards the end of his tenure that this had let up- and, even then, he had to fight tooth and nail for it, dull himself down, keep himself friendly, shave off any sharp edge that could catch and spread his poison into those who thought he wanted to. His rehabilitation under MIRA, his new work, his penance- deception until proven legitimate. Beyond then, even.

Not to Rowan, though. Rowan believed in them, she believed in him- and, though her faith was more correct than the alternative, it still felt, to Gaz, as though it was something she shouldn't be holding. Not to him, and certainly not to MIRA.

And now, reading the outline Dr. Bedell had sent him, that feeling had turned to nausea.

Part of an ongoing PMPD capability test for D-0619-F. Didn't even use the callsign, just the identity number.

He tipped back the coffee cup, finishing the drink whilst he was still outside. Technically, the mask was required at all times, but most people turned a blind eye when he took it off to finish eating something in a ventilated area- and there was no place more ventilated than the great outdoors, was there?

And he put the mask back on properly each time, as well. He made sure of that- and, if he didn't, then his handler certainly did. Glenn Hartwell, ex-analyst turned ex-terrorist-babysitter. Psychologist, Scotsman, amateur landscape painter (a hobby he encouraged Gaz to try, given his own affinity for pencil sketches); he made sure, as soon as they met, to establish as friendly a connection as he could, which Gaz appreciated.

Her name is Rowan, for god's sake.

But Hartwell wasn't here. Given the state of secrecy around the tests, it wasn't seen as necessary to bring him along. If there was a problem with Gaz, then there were already people there more than qualified to deal with it- although, again, there wouldn't be a problem with Gaz at all, because, for all his flaws, he wasn't a fucking idiot.

I've seen the list of substances, as well- these aren't mild fucking highs we're talking about. Why would-

He pulled the mask back over his mouth, clearing his throat as soon as it was in place. People tended to flinch when he coughed unmasked- which was understandable. The habit of holding it in was almost as bad as the habit of taking the mask off to drink at random points in the day. Once secure, Gaz adjusted his tie and entered the laboratory complex, pulling out a crumpled piece of printer paper from his shirt pocket and squinting at the map the printer had (very poorly) spat onto it.

The room he was in, of course, wasn't specified on the paper, but he had memorised the grid number. It was just a matter of making it there, which meant he could focus more on navigation, and less on... whatever this was.

Left here. Right up ahead.

Gaz hated how bright the lights were in here. It made the whole thing feel like a tunnel to heaven found in the back of a hospital; white, washed-out, fatally industrial.

Hartwell said no elevators below one hundred steps. The exercise will do you good, stairwell is on the right. Venom Suit required? Could it be anonymity that-

His legs started to burn after the first ten steps. His breath got short after the first thirty. There were fifty, in this stairwell, with another forty after-

Straight on, turn left at the third door. Stairwell is on the right again. D-0619-F. D-0619-F.

-he glanced up from the map. Grid cell S6, third floor page- it was just down the end of the hallway, he could see the first door already.

At least you can answer that question of yours.


Gaz pushed open the door, nodding politely at his fellow analyst. He set the empty coffee cup down on the nearest surface, then set himself against the wall by the door, leaning his weight on it to try and combat the fatigue the stairs had given him.

"Dr. Bedell, I assume?"

"Ah, doctor... Oleander, was it?"

Bedell, of course, knew his name. He'd asked for him directly, after all, once he'd learned they'd acquired the Contaminant. After reading his file, especially the revised one now that they knew how his manifestation truly worked, his mind had been running nonstop.

"Please, take a seat. D-0619-F will be with us shortly."

The opportunities were endless, obviously. The man was capable of manufacturing, as far as they knew, any chemical compound he'd ever consumed. MIRA, obviously, had been using this gift for chemical analysis, but what he was interested in was the interrogation side of things. They'd already acclimated him to doing that sort of work for the Agency, all he needed was to be told. They all knew he was more than willing.

"I have withheld the fact that you are helping us in our testing today from her. The two of you have been acquainted, yes? I'm sure she will be happy to see you. It should put her at ease."

And she would need to be at ease, today. It was going to be a rough session, full of familiar faces. It wasn't her fault that the person who finally gave him this golden opportunity to test her abilities was someone she had grown familiar with, but that was hardly his concern. D-0619-F would follow through, regardless.

"Your suit has already been delivered. It's in the transitional hallway between here and the ancillary testing chamber. That's where you'll be doing your work today. You've read the briefing?"

"Of course."

Gaz pushed himself off the wall with his hands and walked over to the chair, slouching just a little as he sat down, but otherwise retaining somewhat professional posture. His diet in preparation to these tests had not been particularly energy-yielding, and the physical fatigue was starting to show.

Gasoline, next time- pinch your nose and take it like a shot.


Still, it would be better than this. Though his tiredness hadn't reached anywhere close to dangerous, it was just enough to make him a little more irritable than usual- although, given everything he had read--and now heard--about Rowan's case, perhaps it would be unfair to place the blame solely on lack of sustenance. Maybe the man before him should take some responsibility. Or the organisation that hired him. Hired them. Allowed this. Allowed them.

She wouldn't be happy to see him- not sitting here, not doing this. Bedell's surface-level concern for her mental wellbeing at least showed he had considered how the tests might affect her, but the fact that he hadn't informed her about all of this showed that his concern started and stopped at saving face with the ethics board. A familiar situation to Gaz, certainly, but to Rowan...

"I've read the briefing, yes." He nodded, "I assume you've already had Rowan read the safety procedures regarding chemical hazards?"

He most certainly did not assume that, but still.

The list he was given consisted mostly of injectable liquids, since that was the quickest way to induce the desired effects, but there was always the risk that something might spill. It was the sort of risk that was more for his good standing than his colleagues' good health. Besides, as Hartwell was always quick to point out, it was technically required by health and safety legislation to wear some sort of respiratory protection whenever Gaz didn't have the containment mask on- but something told him Bedell cared as much for that rule as he did himself.

"If you don't mind, Doctor, I've put through a request for a further test on the schedule. The health risks are minimal, unless the subject has a particularly rare allergy, so I thought I'd send it directly to your team."

Gaz frowned.

"I didn't recieve a response, though. I've prepared the materials regardless, but I was wondering if it had actually been scheduled."

I doubt we need to make time for any proper briefing.

"The trial with the sedative, I mean."

Across the room, Dr. Bedell shuffled some papers, drawn from a folder, around. On closer inspection, it would reveal the very forms Dr. Oleander had asked if D-0619-F had seen yet. Of course she had. He'd worked hard for this day, and he wouldn't have it squandered by red tape and procedure.

"My apologies. I had meant to tell you I would acquire proper authorization for that. It's been greenlit."

He returned the forms back to their folder. He'd kept them on hand, just in case a refresher was needed. It likely wouldn't. Dr. Bedell wasn't an especially noteworthy man, looks wise. Middle aged, salt-and-pepper hair, thin but not unhealthy. Clean shaven, eyes bright and alert. A true stereotypical scientist, a man working towards the advancement of humanity. Oh, if only they knew what it took.

"After we've done the preliminary tests with the psychoactive substances, we will move to the sedative tests."

It would only be a few more minutes now. D-0619-F was well on her way, and so he should finish preparations. Dr. Bedell raised a hand to his earpiece. "Bring in the first subject. Testing begins in five minutes."

"I suggest you make any preparations you need to, Dr. Oleander. I fear that today's testing may be extensive."

Last on the docket. Fine by me- at least I won't have to schedule a test with her myself. I don't think they'd let me come close, if that were the case.

It was a coin-toss as to whether or not Gaz's emails would be read, and a separate coin-toss as to whether they'd be answered. Winning the first and losing the second was always the most annoying outcome, because it meant there wasn't really anything he could do about it. Perhaps if Bedell was an intern and not a senior analyst, Gaz would've been able to remind him that responding to communication is as important as reading it- but, if he didn't know that by this point in his career, there was no helping him.

Still, it made the case that the oddities surrounding these tests stemmed from neglect, rather than malice. Rowan, from what he had heard, could be particularly useful for MIRA's work- perhaps, in the rush to discover as much about her as they could, certain things like proper briefing and responding to emails and using your subject's name instead of her dossier number simply had to fall by the wayside.

Wouldn't be the first PMPD case they've rushed through.

"I've brought some glucose gel with me- I can take it when I'm isolated, unless you don't mind me removing the mask in here for a second."

Gaz sighed, a half-hearted smile half-visible through the mask, which he tentatively brought his hand up to hold.

"Not much in the way of nutrition with this stuff we're testing, I can tell you that."

Although, looking at him, he didn't seem the type to know anything about nutrition. Though he was nowhere near as sickly as Contaminant had been, hunger still showed on his face like a bad tattoo. Eye-bags and paling skin and blue, spidery veins; the questions he'd be asked were more than enough to remind him to stay on top of his nutritional intake. He always looked like shit before jobs like this.

Aside from that, and much like the man before him, he was completely unremarkable. A man in his thirties, terrible eyesight, a little underweight, working a corporate job in a grey office somewhere too boring to mention. Without the mandatory containment mask, you wouldn't be able to pick him out of a crowd.

That's part of the reason it's mandatory, innit? So you can't pull a runner- not that you'd get very far.

"If you don't mind me asking, how much does she know?"
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Bedell waved his hand dismissively. "Feel free, Dr. Oleander. We're colleagues, in this. Do as you see fit." Besides, if he went off the deep end and killed him, he wouldn't make it out of the building, much less the room. He wouldn't get to see the results of his research, but someone else would take up the mantle. He'd left notes, briefings, future plans, all of it. It wouldn't die with him, but he had to admit, he wanted to see it through.

Dr. Oleander seemed at ease, though. That was good. He was even making jokes. Perhaps the report were right, about him.

"I understand you've been required to take a rather draconian nutritional plan in the days leading up to this. I do apologize, but I think we both can see the necessity in these tests. If required, I can make a request on your behalf as part of the debriefing for something more appetizing." It would be such a waste to let him starve, after all.

In the adjacent room, hidden behind a retractable panel, a door opened. A muffled voice, upset, somewhat terrified, could be heard, paired with the sounds of footsteps. The talking, the muffled pleading, carried on for a few more moments as the door shut. Just as the voice fell silent, the door to the observation room opened.

"Sorry I'm late, Dr. Bedell, I had to finish up some work from the last- Gaz?! What are you doing here?"

The walk down to the lab was memorized, for Rowan. She was, at this point, almost certain she could make the trek with her eyes closed. Really, the only difficulty was the rotating passwords and security checkpoints along the way, but that was necessary. This was top clearance work, and only the people who needed to know what they were doing would. That was what she'd been told, it was what she believed, and it was what made seeing Gaz here so surprising.

"Are you the other person joining the tests today? I can't imagine you're here just to observe."

She'd stopped, half through the doorway, knob still in hand. Dr. Bedell, from his seat, cleared his throat, and motioned for her to come inside. She obliged, shutting the door firmly behind her.

"Good afternoon, Rowan. Yes, Dr. Oleander is going to be assisting us in our work today."

She looked pleased at the idea. From his earpiece, Dr. Bedell received confirmation that the first test was ready.

"I assume the two of you have been introduced. Today, we are working to discern how your manifestation interacts with individuals under the influence of various psychoactive substances. Think along the lines of we've captured someone we suspect to be involved with the MLF, and we're trying to get information on the cell they're based from. We've seen already that those trained against interrogation techniques can resist your manifestation, Rowan. We want to know if, by greasing the wheels for you, we can open up just enough of a gap for your voice to find purchase and get what we want to know."

Understandably, she looked uncomfortable with this idea. Dr. Bedell thought it strange, given the reports from some of her dagger operations, though he supposed there was something different between facing enemies of the state in the field as opposed to forcing things out of them in a controlled situation.

"I understand your reservations, Rowan. I know that look on your face. You need to remember, this is to keep people safe. I know it was just before your time, but you've heard of the July Holocaust, and you've lived in the aftermath your whole life. We want to keep that from happening again. You can help us keep that from happening again."

He looked to Dr. Oleander. "The test is prepared, the two of you are free to begin as soon as you see fit. The first subject is in the ancillary chamber, just take that door there. Your suit is in the adjoining room. Both of you go inside, I will provide instruction from here, once we've gotten the results, you will exit, and the next test will be prepared."

"No need for that this time- but I appreciate the offer."

MIRA's recovery diets were somehow even less flavourful than the diets he had to recover from. Gaz had such bizarrely specific deficiencies which fluctuated so frequently that the team of nutritionists usually just gave up when it came to finding actual food that could fill in the gaps. Often, it was just protein cubes and blended grey paste, with a steady supply of those glucose gel pouches to give him the energy to chew them. As nice as it would be to have actual meals be assigned, given his schedule, this was often all they could manage. Packing in as much as they could in the short span of time between chemical productions was the only way to keep him stable. A normal diet schedule would seriously malnourish him, and he understood this.

That didn't make it fun, though.

Cook when you get back. It might take your mind off things.

He carefully unhooked the mask and pulled it off his face, hanging it loosely around his neck on the off-chance someone decided to swipe it from the desk and run off with it. With his face bare, the tertiary benefits of the mask were incredibly apparent. He looked pale, and tired, and disturbingly similar to Dr. Farlow. Something about removing the barrier between his mouth and his eyes made it clear just how little had been done to change him, at least on the face.

For the most part, however, it was enough. It was only when it was removed that this really became a problem.

The gel was thin, sweet, and completely unflavoured. It came in unmarked packets, and Gaz took four at once- at minimum. He'd break it down, store it, and release it into his own bloodstream whenever his blood sugar started to drop- it was easier and safer than having to digest himself for supplies.

Halfway through this, with perfect timing, came Rowan.

Gaz quickly drained the packets, smiling awkwardly as he brought the mask back up. Sure, she didn't seem the type to go running to the powers that be over such a minor rule-break, but he figured she cared about them a little bit more than the average employee. It was safe, though. Surely, she'd trust him to be safe- of all things, she would trust him to be safe.

She was confused why he was here. Though she knew more or less what he was capable of, she didn't know that MIRA was exercising that capability- the opposite of her situation, it seemed. He considered saying something--and at one point looked as though he would--but he decided to keep his mouth firmly shut.

Fuck do I even tell her? 'Hello, Rowan. Yeah, I'm not here to photocopy things this time- they actually commissioned me to make illegal deliriants, funnily enough. No, this isn't the first time they've had me do this. No, this isn't the worst thing they've had me do; it's just the worst thing you're allowed to know about. Thanks for lending me that mug, by the way- I handed it back to your team this morning.'.

Though his attention was superficially on Bedell, Gaz kept glancing over to Rowan, watching her shrink further and further into discomfort as this 'briefing' went on. The ethics board may like to save face on the subjects' consent, they clearly didn't see the same value in the consent of those providing the conditions. That would make two of them that didn't want to be there- Rowan, and whoever was behind the door. The one he'd heard pleading, just now.

Bad headspace. He's not going to have a good time with any of these, even if he took them by choice. Expect resistence, heightened stress response, unwillingness to comply, unless-

"The minimum effective dosage has been calculated based on his bodyweight and composition." He said to Rowan, flatly, "I'm being as careful with these as I would be with any other substance- it's enough to get what we want out of the test, and nothing else. He'll be as safe as he possibly can be."

'In safe hands' would've been a better choice of phrase, but Gaz deliberately avoided saying it- the hands he'd be in, at least for the chemical trials, would be capped on each finger by pneumatically pressurised hypodermic needles about four centimetres long. Standard fare for interrogations, on his end.

Then, Bedell brought up the July Holocaust. Gaz had to consciously fight a scowl from contaminating his face, tensing up at the shockingly blatant emotional manipulation. How many times had they used that line on her, he wondered? How many times would they? She had only really known a world that bore its scars, and the possibility of another incident, another metahuman, another uncountable death toll- Bedell was holding it to her head like a gun.

Of course, he couldn't say anything on the matter- but he let himself frown, if just for a second, if it was all he could do.

After the speech had concluded, Gaz pushed himself out of the chair and walked towards the chamber, checking over his shoulder to see if Rowan was following. The suit would be quick to put on, since it had already been prepared. It was loose-fitting, designed to slip over his regular attire whilst retaining some degree of motion. The only thing he'd need to put away were his glasses, which he kept in a beat-up old Specsavers case so they didn't get damaged.

He walked into the corner of the room and began stepping into the suit, leaving the mask until last.

"You alright?"

The first question was asked casually- more greeting than enquiry.

"You, uh- work for interrogations now?"

The second question was not.
Rowan's frown didn't go away, despite Dr. Bedell's reasoning. She understood it well enough though- hell, she'd already saved lives. She'd been with MIRA for years now, she'd negotiated hostage situations, talked people down from the brink. From these tests, she'd realized just how strong she was, how much she could help. This was just another step along that path, to help keep people safe.

The answer Gaz gave was no good. It was detached and distant, but she'd noticed that in him already. She understood why, too. Not everyone knew what he was before, but she'd seen his face on TV, she'd heard the reports. But she also knew he was better now, she knew it from firsthand experience. She followed along behind him as he left the observation room, leaving Dr. Bedell behind to watch as everything unfolded, and into the transitionary room.

Then she saw the suit. It was only a moment, but a jolt of fear ran through her, and she had to remind herself who wore it.

"Yeah, I'm... fine. Just- intense stuff today, I guess. Somehow being shot at is less stressful," she said, pairing a nervous laugh with it as she began towards the door leading to the ancillary test chamber. Rowan had hardly ever been in there, usually just speaking through a vent-

"Oh, yeah. Apparently." Her voice lacked her usual enthusiasm, instead laced with trepidation. "It's new. Recent. I'm not really- I guess I'm not sure how I feel about it, if I'm honest. You? I thought you were in an analyst role." She'd stopped halfway to the door, eyes carefully avoiding him and his suit, trying her best to lead the conversation away from how she felt about today's subject.

The gloves were a little finnicky to get on, so he made sure to take his time, stretching out each finger in turn so it went on smoothly. It helped that his hands were bare; if he wore a wedding ring, the process would be twice as annoying. He winced a little as the syringes slid into his wrists- not quite pain, but certainly discomfort. It was a weird feeling. Real weird. Like finding an old piercing you had somehow forgotten about, but somehow hadn't healed over.

There was a quiet hiss as the mechanism came to life, and the syringes filled with a small amount of saline- his standard way to test they worked.

"Mm, intense is one way to put it."

He pressed down on each needle, making sure the contents was expelled at the proper force with no air to contaminate it. They all worked fine. Of course they did; though based on his own designs, the suit was built by MIRA. This wasn't something they'd be careless about, even if it was only intended for harm.

Wouldn't want to give a prisoner an embolism before we can get anything good out of him, would we?

He unhooked the containment mask again, placing it down next to his glasses. He stopped, for a moment, to enjoy the relatively fresh air- since he wouldn't be removing the mouth tube, breathing in this thing was going to be uncomfortable. Not enough to hinder respiration, he was assured, but certainly enough to worsen his already sour mood.

"Yeah, it's weird..." He shrugged, "I guess this is what I'm analysing today."

Gaz gave Rowan a smile; the last expression she'd see him make before the mask was pulled over his head and everything beneath it disappeared. He made sure it was secure. He made sure it was safe.

Alright, then.

"I-... yeah. I guess so."

She figured it made sense, that he would be called in for this. Given his manifestation, he was a perfect fit for this kind of test. Just- part of her thought he had moved past this. No, Rowan knew he'd moved past this. She spoke to him maybe not every day, but a considerable number of them. He'd gone out for drinks with her before, they'd talked about movies they enjoyed, books they'd read. MIRA had helped him get past that darkness from his past, so why-

Rowan shut her eyes and sighed. It was hard to look at that suit. She'd been told to be afraid of it, or one similar to it. Gaz, before he was Gaz, he'd done things she knew he regretted. When he'd turned himself in, back then, they'd found the plans for the suit in his apartment. It was all over the news, for weeks. It was her first real look at the opposite of a Cloak- a supervillain, in effect. It was so hard to separate the man in the suit from what it represented.

But she had to. It was her job. She'd done things she wasn't comfortable with, now, too. She'd taken lives. She'd helped Hannah kill. It was necessary. She still didn't like it, all these years later, but it was necessary, to keep people safe. She couldn't afford to get squeamish and back out now.

Her eyes came open, and she stuck her chin up in the air. Then, without another word, she strode past Gaz, and placed her hand against the scanner next to the door. After a moment, it beeped, and slid away to reveal the ancillary test chamber.

As the door slid away, the pair would find in front of them a rather plain room. To their right, along the wall, was another door, with a similar handprint scanner lit red, presumably where the test subject was brought in from. The wall opposite this door was reflective black glass, a one-way window, one Rowan was quite familiar with watching through. Dr. Bedell was on the other side, preparing to spectate the test.

In the center of the room, with his hands cuffed to a table, sat the subject. Already, this was more intense than Rowan was familiar with in her testing, though she didn't let it show as she strode into the room. The man, who had been looking quite dejected as the door silently slid open, raised his head as the pair entered. The door slid shut, just as quietly, after Gaz entered the room.

The subject, a younger man, perhaps in his mid twenties, looked between Rowan, with hope, and Gaz, with something between apprehension and fear. He was in decent shape, buzzed black hair, clean shaven. Nothing specifically seemed off about him, at a first glance. "L-listen, I didn't do anything, you have to tell them, I didn't-"

A speaker came to life. "Agent Elixir, if you will please begin the test. Agent Songbird, I will supply you with what we want to know once the test has begun." The subject began stammering again, looking to Gaz in fear alone now. Rowan, with her jaw set, was staring at the wall behind him, with the windowed wall to her back.

It wasn't nice, knowing that he made Rowan uncomfortable, but it wasn't unexpected, either. Intimidation was what the Venom Suit was designed for, and that sort of thing couldn't really discriminate. Most Agents he had to work with at least found solace in the fact that the self-styled pseudovillain was on their side--or, at least, that they were protected against him--but that wasn't really applicable in this scenario. Not a lot was. Things were unusual this time- and, given everything, he couldn't really blame her for being unnerved.

He followed after Rowan in near-perfect silence. Despite its bulk, there was little on the suit that could make much noise; the relevant hardware was too tightly-sealed to clank against itself, and the rest was shock-absorbent fabric, too thick to catch on anything long enough to make a sound. The disposable coating over the boots muted his footsteps as he took them- and, whenever he spoke, his voice was noticeably muffled.

But he wouldn't speak yet.

The door closed behind them, sealing them in and allowing him to get a closer look at their test subject. He was nervous, even before they got there. Gaz heard the pleading from the other room- god knows how long they had kept him here, let alone how much (or little) they told him about what was going to happen. He was young too, he noticed; a little younger than Gaz had been when MIRA had taken him in.

What was his crime, then? What landed him here? Drug-dealing, fraud, espionage- can't be worse than that, or it'd make the news. Isn't it weird how you're the one on this side of the table?

He flexed his hand, stretching out his fingers and allowing the internal syringe to push further into his wrist. One needle should be enough for what he was doing, but isolating just one was a bit of a pain to do, a bit finnicky in this suit. Four would be easier; he was in control of how much they filled up, so there wasn't much risk of an overdose with this method, despite how it looked.

Gaz held his hand up to the overhead light, watching as the chambers filled with clear fluid. A barbiturate, this time; one he had been introduced to shortly after arriving in New York. It didn't have a name outside of its chemical structure or the string of coded letters used to obscure it. The folks who made designer interrogation drugs didn't seem to prioritise making things easy to remember.

From his personal tests, he had noted it was one of the safer ones- at least, in terms of physical side-effects. There was some strain on the heart that was a little unusual, but that only became a problem at higher doses, or presumably in people with existing conditions. Aside from that, it was an improvement over the usual; it was effective in smaller doses, tolerance was harder to build, and the subjects didn't have to be tapered off as carefully when they were no longer needed.

He thought about telling Rowan this, but he doubted it would help. Its function remained unchanged.

Watch for serious side-effects- respiratory problems, signs of a seizure. Others can be ignored until the sedative trial- all signs should be monitored then, in case of an interaction, but you've used this stuff before. No need to be too cautious.

The handcuffs were a welcome precaution, considering what he had to do. Though he wasn't exactly frail, Gaz wouldn't call himself particualrly physically gifted; those stairs were proof enough. The Venom Suit was designed for use on mobile subjects, with the stronger needles in higher quantities giving him more chances to inject properly, but it was also designed for lethality- or, at the very least, incapacitation. Little thought had been given to the problem of tissue damage; even less to comfort.

"Keep your arm relaxed for me."

He held the arm in his left hand, and approached it with his right, quickly locating the veins thanks to the slight tint of the mask's lenses. Then, like a scorpion's tail, he brought the four needles down to their target.

Of course, he did not relax. Instead, he strained against the cuffs holding him in place, stammering as he drew near. Of course, he was powerless to stop him, and the needle made its way through his skin. It would take only a minute or so for the drug to take effect. In the meantime, the man they'd brought in was, as expected, looking quite panicked. "I- what did you do? Why am I here, I didn't do anything, no one's telling me anything!"

Rowan's eyes didn't wander from their held spot on the back wall, her jaw clenched both as Gaz administered the drugs and the man began his panicked questions. He wasn't a willing participant, and she was beginning to wonder if she should be. Part of her wanted to take him at face value, to vouch for him and get him released. Unfortunately, she knew it wouldn't work. He was here for a reason. MIRA didn't make small mistakes like this.

Very suddenly, she spoke. "You're here because you did something." Her usual charm was lacking, her voice somewhat cold. She uncrossed her arms and placed her hands down on the table, finally bringing her eyes down to him. He was around her age, but seemed... normal. Granted, so did she, and Gaz, and Pitch, and nearly everyone else at MIRA. Looks could be very deceiving.

"We're going to find out what you did, how serious it is, and what needs to be done going forwards. You're going to be honest and clear with me." She wasn't ever going to see this man again, once this was over. Rowan already knew that. It made it a little easier to be direct, knowing that.

His head was starting to get foggy as the drugs worked their way through his system, slowly impairing thought, and it was getting hard to work through what he was seeing in front of him. "B-but I didn't... I don't know why I'm here, where am I-"

"Am I clear?"
The words washed over him like a wave, grabbing his addled mind and dragging it along in the current. The fog was washed away, and thing felt a little simpler now. Slowly, clearly very under the influence, he nodded.

"Good. What's your name?"

He didn't relax. That was his loss. Four needles, larger than standard for clinical use, right into a tensed arm- it'd hurt, but Gaz didn't have much sympathy. There was a familiar hiss as the pneumatic system got to work, and the liquid was drained as quickly as it safely could be. He removed the needles and wiped down the injection site. Though he doubted they had to be careful with this guy, it was still good practice to prevent unnecessary infection. Then, since Rowan would be taking post at the interrogation table, he moved a few paces behind her and stood perfectly still, watching in silence as things unfolded. This had the primary benefit of allowing him to focus on the scene in front of him- an unimpeded view, with no expectation to break it.

The secondary benefit, of course, being that he looked absolutely fucking terrifying.

Rowan was detached, he noticed. Very detached. Too detached- maybe not for the job, but definitely for her. It wasn't like Gaz was in any position to speak, of course, but hearing her like this... it wasn't right. Still, this wasn't the right time for concerns like that. He had things to focus on, and he really had to focus on them.

Two people at a table- interviewer, interviewee. You are a third party, an observer. You are not part of this conversation.

He had read Rowan's dossier before the trial. It was mandatory. Considering what was on it, it had to be- if Gaz had gone into this unprepared, he'd be talking just as much as the guy being asked the questions, and he wouldn't have much control over what he was saying. Anti-interrogation techniques were known to be effective in resisting her influence, he was told- that was what the trial was about, after all. Though chemical interrogation wasn't something he had to worry about, the fact that half his own dossier had been blacked out meant that he was required to go through training.

This wasn't a conventional technique, though, but it was easier to manage alongside the required observation of the test subject. If he could consciously and continuously recognise that he was not the one being spoken to, he shouldn't have to speak. The problem would be keeping focus, but Gaz was fairly confident in his ability to do that. He was detached, like she was- like she shouldn't be.

"Am I clear?"

She's asking him. Didn't even look at you. You are not part of this conversation.

"Good. What's your name?"?

She knows yours. Why would she ask again? She needs his. Listen to it. You are not part of this conversation.

Some part of him knew he shouldn't share his name with this woman. He didn't know her, he didn't know that nightmare standing behind her. Yet, through the drug induced fog, he found that he couldn't stop himself. He was speaking without meaning to, and had said his name before he'd ever thought that he shouldn't.

"J-Jake Mathis."

The woman sighed, her eyes shutting. Jakes eyes darted around the room in front of him, his anxiety evident. It was so hard to think, what had that guy done to him, what was going on? His breathing picked up, and he pulled against the cuffs again.

The rattling sound of metal on metal rang in Rowan's ears as she took a moment to think. Jake Mathis. He'd complied- she'd expected as much. He could be one of the best trained minds in the world, with years of resistance training- it wouldn't matter, in these circumstances. Between the drug, and the fact they had nowhere else to go, she knew she could wear anyone down. It wouldn't feel great, but she knew it was possible, even if it hadn't been tested.

She opened her eyes.

"Listen, I know you're scared. I would be too, sitting where you are. The fact of the matter is, so long as you cooperate, there won't be a reason to be scared. You're not going to die here, despite how he looks." She motioned behind her, to Gaz. "If you work with me, and make this painless," as if you have a choice "then I can put in a good word for you. Maybe get you out of here a little faster, after whatever happened gets cleared up."

She knelt down on one knee, in front of the table. She was lower than Jake now, on account of not having a seat, but she looked him in the eyes. She'd become more personal, all at once. She'd gotten her frustrations out, at least to start with, and now that she knew his name, she could make this easier for him, and Gaz. This didn't need to be a day of suffering for everyone.

"Do you have family, Jake? Any friends, who might worry about you?"

He nodded. She nodded back.

"I don't want them to worry. So, let's just work together, and get you out of here, yeah?"

He nodded again, though she could tell that he was still nervous. He still didn't trust her. That was fine, he didn't need to. It would make it easier if he did, but it wasn't necessary. She'd already learned that. Rowan took another breath in, and after a moment's hesitation, spoke once more.

"What did you do, Jake? For them to bring you here?"
It was quick- both the presentation of symptoms, and the sudden willingness to comply. The first, Gaz already expected. The substance he was using was known for its quickness, among the other benefits- quick to show, quick to fade. It would almost be out of his system by the time this trial was over, which minimised the risk of dependence, and it had only taken moments for it to take hold, which meant he didn't have to sit there in awkward silence alongside Rowan, waiting for their subject to go under. They could work now, and they could work efficiently.

Jake Mathis. Never heard of him.

As Rowan knelt down, Gaz stayed standing- now less a person, and more a gun being pointed at the man's head. Not that it was necessary, of course. All the coersion he'd need had been injected into his arm, and all the convincing was kneeling before him; talking.

She was gentle, again. Not quite the enthusiasm he was used to seeing from her, but she was a step closer now than she was for the past couple of lines. He'd admit, it wasn't how he was used to interrogations going--especially not when he was in the room--but the shift was at least a welcome one. She treated Jake like a person. That was more than could be said for most of the trained professionals in her position. It was more than could be said for-

No initial adverse response. Looks like the subliminal channels don't fuck with the nerves too much- seems like a mostly cognitive thing. Not my area to study though, innit?

Though aware of how jarring his presence was, Gaz didn't do anything to change it.

Her next question wasn't for him, either. He remained as he was.
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She seemed so nice, and asked so calmly... surely she wasn't lying? He'd heard her name before, Songbird. That name meant something, he's seen her before, on TV, after things went bad. She helped people, she wanted to help him, he could go home, he-

"I-I wanted to find out who a cloak was. They saved me during-"

Jake began on a story, one clearly meant to be sympathetic and well-meaning. In the end, though, it boiled down to a handful of key facts. He'd been inquiring into the top secret identities of one of the cloaks, the public facing heroes of MIRA. He wanted to meet with them, whoever they were, personally. He'd tried, and nearly succeeded, in breaking MIRA's systems to do it. Whatever his reasoning, it wasn't as pure as he implied it was, and he'd been damned determined to do it.

"- so I thought I could just find out who they were and go see them or write them a letter or something. It's not that bad right? I didn't mean anything by it, please you have to believe me."

Over the intercom, Dr. Bedell's voice came through, informing the two agents that the first test was a success, and that they should leave the room, as they prepare the next round.

Of course, things were never as simple as they seemed to be, or as they needed to be. She'd gotten the story out of him, and it'd been easy, so they knew it worked. Of course it had worked, she knew it would coming in. The second she'd been told, when she'd arrived, she knew, and she didn't get why it was still necessary. Regardless, it was her job. Clearly, there was something they were trying to learn.

Jake's story actually soured Rowan a bit, despite his good intentions. She understood wanting to give thanks to one of the cloaks, so many people wanted to do that after any given incident. Hell, there was usually time devoted specifically to that, once the worst of things had been handled. She'd met countless people in the field wanting to say thanks, claiming to be fans, it was standard. That barrier, between the cloak and the agent, was there for a reason, though. They weren't meant to know the people, they were meant to know the hero. She wasn't Rowan, in the field. She was Songbird, and that was the extent of what the public needed to know.

She buried that discomfort as best she could, though, and nodded to the man. "I'll try to make sure you get out of this as easily as you can. Just- stay..." She hesitated a moment, taking a breath and letting it out as a sigh.

"Just stay calm, Jake. It'll be fine."
She stood back to her full height, which wouldn't be as impressive if it weren't for the fact he was trapped in a chair, and made for the door they'd entered from. Rowan placed her hand against the scanner, as she was the only one not wearing gloves, and as the lock gave way, she stepped to the side, to let Gaz through, still very tacitly avoiding looking directly at him. God, today was off to a roaring start.
His story didn't elicit much sympathy, despite how hard he was angling for it. The fact that he was able to make it far enough to be put in handcuffs like this was all the evidence needed to tell him that his intentions ran a little deeper than just wanting to thank a celebrity- but, even if that was all there was to it, he still wouldn't seem innocent. Jake was obsessive, whatever the root of the obsession was. Tearing down government barriers was no small feat, even if he had been stopped before he could do any real damage. He wasn't the first person to worship a Cloak, and he wouldn't be the last, but if his worship led to this...

Gaz glanced at Rowan. She wasn't wearing a mask, but a power like hers was all she needed to hide her identity. Her file, as well- that was basically a blank page with a few strips of black tape on it. When it got filled, at the end of all these tests, it would be filled only with more black tape. Some things were best kept secret, and MIRA as a whole tended to be a bit over-cautious when it came to what that applied to- all for good reason, of course. Though he knew she was more trustworthy than most, the truth about her power could never be made public- not even internally. There'd be outrage. Hysteria.

MIRA would have to keep this weapon sheathed.

He lingered for a moment as Rowan turned and left, eyes scanning the man before him, in case of any sudden side-effects. Nerves aside, he seemed fine- and even the nerves seemed to be fading. No rare allergies, then- not to this stuff, at least. That was good. Gaz didn't want to poison a guy in front of someone like her, even unintentionally- but he knew his wish wouldn't stay granted for long.

That's the control done, then. She probably knows it's just the start, but...

The needles clicked together as he flexed his hand, moving it towards his wrist- an idle motion he had to stop himself from doing. Gaz turned around, walking out of the test chamber without another word to Jake.

Have they made her do much before this?

"Hey," He said, once the door slid shut, "Good on ya for calming him down at the end- that'll help a lot with the comedown, I reckon. Most people don't get that privilege."

As soon as it was safe to, Gaz removed the mask, picking up his glasses from their place on the table and sliding them onto his face. It was better to look human during these moments of downtime, he reasoned- especially given how uncomfortable Rowan had seemed around the suit. The needle-gloves weren't something he could remove, of course, but if he kept his hands behind his back, then at least she wouldn't have to look at them. He was just Gaz again- not Elixir, not... the other one.

"Not the sort of stuff you're used to, is it?" He sighed lightly, "I'll admit, 's weird for me too- but a job's a job, I suppose. You just have to do it the best way you can."
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Rowan trusted Dr. Bedell. She knew, or hoped she knew, that he would have the proper procedures in place to help Jake, both with what he'd been subjected to and afterwards. He was talented enough to breach MIRA's systems, maybe there was something there that could be done, something that would mean he wouldn't have to be dealt with in a more permanent manner.

She stopped for a second, hesitating. Just a few years ago, a thought like that wouldn't have ever crossed her mind. She was here to save people, to help people be saved. Why was she so stuck on the thought that his life was over? Had things really been going that poorly for her lately? After a moment, Rowan shook her head, and stepped further into the room, coming back to herself just in time to listen to Gaz.

He'd taken off the mask. She appreciated that, and it was evident by her face, the way her eyes met his, the way she was willing to look, now. "I... yeah. It felt like the right thing to do. He... didn't seem too happy, about what was going on." Christ, understatement of the year, that one. It couldn't be helped, she figured, considering. Talking about it as it truly was seemed like a recipe for disaster, for her.

"Yeah. Job's a job. It pays to know for sure, if it'd work." Rowan lapsed into silence for a moment, after that before a thought came to mind. It was something she should have asked earlier, but everything had kicked off very suddenly, and considering she'd been late, she hadn't been in any position to slow it down. "How much do you know, actually, Gaz? About, uh, this? The whole situation, I mean," she asked, waving her hands about in circular fashion, trying to help get across her meaning.

Gaz wondered what would happen to Jake, after all this was over. Perhaps he'd be imprisoned, held in a cell for the rest of his life- a harsh sentence for a non-violent offense, but MIRA took security very, very seriously. Perhaps, instead, he'd be retained within the centre and used for further testing- he seemed like a useful baseline, no particularly outstanding markers. And perhaps, of course, he would be executed.

He wondered if he'd be roped in to give the injection. It would have to be someone who knew about the trial, he assumed--in case he talked--but Gaz wasn't often called in for things that routine. His on-site work, even the more unsavoury jobs, tended to be more novel than that; substances that were hard to synthesise, hard to administer, or just hard to analyse. The weird stuff. The illegal stuff. He was familiar with the mundane, of course, but that wasn't where his specialties lay. Gaz already knew what barbiturates did to the body. He knew a damn lot more than that. So did they.

Rowan was meeting his eyes, at least- arsenic green, as apt a cliche as any. She seemed pensive, a little shaken up, but otherwise alright. Gaz shrugged at her statement- not quite reaching callous, but still not as sympathetic as he probably should have been.

"I mean you wouldn't be, would you?" He shook his head, "Drugging, interrogation- that's no fun for anyone, especially not here. But, I-"

A pause, reluctant to end.

"I... suppose that's what you sign up for, when you do things like that. Y'know-"

He shrugged again, raising his shoulders a little higher. He blinked and averted his eyes, moreso talking to the wall behind Rowan than to Rowan herself.



Good thing your-

"I'll admit, I don't know much."

Gaz returned his gaze to Rowan, relaxing a little bit as he spoke. It was true- he didn't. Not for certain, anyway- the information he was given had been as barebones as they could get away with, and what more he knew came mostly from his own extrapolations. Whilst he didn't want to lie to Rowan, he wasn't going to voice everything- not whilst Bedell was breathing down their necks from the other room.

He had some concerns, and his little to-do list for today had all but confirmed them.

"They've been testing your influence, haven't they?" He said, "Point of effect, its mechanics, its limitations- these tests are for how it interacts with psychoactives, which is why I'm here."

His eyes narrowed for a moment.

"Rowan, do you know what it is you're doing today?"